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Team Blackjack supports last GPS IIF satellite launch

The 45th Space Wing supported the U.S. Air Force's twelfth launch of a Boeing-built Global Positioning System IIF satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 here Feb. 5 at 8:38 a.m. EST. GPS is the Department of Defense's largest satellite constellation with 31-operational satellites on orbit. (Photo by ULA)

The 45th Space Wing supported the U.S. Air Force's twelfth launch of a Boeing-built Global Positioning System IIF satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 here Feb. 5 at 8:38 a.m. EST. GPS is the Department of Defense's largest satellite constellation with 31-operational satellites on orbit. (Photo by ULA)

Members of 2nd and 19th Space Operations Squadrons observe the GPS Satellite Vehicle No. 70 launch Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. The satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The SVN-70 launch not only completes the GPS IIF family, but it also brings an end to Team Blackjack’s era of successful launches from the GPS Master Control Station. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart)

Members of 2nd and 19th Space Operations Squadrons observe the GPS Satellite Vehicle No. 70 launch Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. The satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The SVN-70 launch not only completes the GPS IIF family, but it also brings an end to Team Blackjack’s era of successful launches from the GPS Master Control Station. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Members of the 2nd and 19th Space Operations Squadrons, also known as Team Blackjack, gathered to support and celebrate the launch of GPS IIF satellite vehicle no. 70, the last of the Block IIF family, Friday, Feb. 5, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

A live video feed of the launch, which took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, was streamed on GPS Master Control Station televisions as Team Blackjack monitored and provided support to the launch team.

"What we witnessed today was a team of individuals composed of the 19 SOPS launch team, 2 SOPS operators and the Space and Missile Systems Center, who basically tracked all the telemetry points from the [launch] site as we awaited countdown for actual lift off," said Maj. Roland Rainey, 2 SOPS director of operations. "Upon liftoff, we saw the satellite break the atmosphere with no anomalies. It was a very smooth, successful flight."

Team Blackjack expected nothing less as this launch closed out an aggressive launch schedule--with the team participating in three launches within the last nine months.

"We are one of the few squadrons across the U.S. Air Force, especially in [Air Force Space Command] that launched as many satellites in a given year," said Rainey. "This launch is a culmination of years of training, continuity and proficiency which has allowed 2 and 19 SOPS to become experts in the launch support business."

The launch of SVN-70 not only completes the GPS IIF family, but it also brings an end to Team Blackjack's era of successful launches from the GPS Master Control Station.

"Throughout the years, 19 SOPS and our partners have become the backbone of the launch support business," said Rainey. "They possess a lot of expertise and continuity, [but] as we move to GPS III, things are going to be a little bit different. Moving forward, launch activities will be handled by Lockheed Martin at their own facility."

"This launch is bittersweet in the fact that we are done with this era and we won't be involved in this way with launch again," said Maj. Kimberly Adams, 310th Space Wing executive officer, who was assisting 19 SOPS during launch operations.

But 19 SOPS has already begun the transition into its new role.

"We're already involved in the GPS III launches as far as offering suggestions on how to do things, but the contractor will be responsible for the launch," said Adams. "We're also working with [contractors] on launch exercises."

As the team awaits gaining satellite control authority of SVN-70, they are pressing forward with settling into their new roles as well as preparing for next year's launch and disposal schedule.

"Right now we are currently assessing and building a very comprehensive disposal plan as we prepare for next year's GPS III launches, which is the next family of GPS satellites," said Rainey.

According to Rainey, GPS III is set to replace some older GPS satellites, and also bring more robust capabilities such as safety of life signal.

Although the team is looking forward, for now, Team Blackjack is enjoying their last launch together at Schriever.

"This last launch is very special but more importantly it really codifies just how great this team is when it comes to the launch support business," said Rainey.
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